Accidental Death by Hyperthermia: Tyler's Story
I want you to meet Tyler; a little boy who left this world far too soon. His is a story of sadness and of hope. This July marked eight years since Tyler’s death. I vaguely remember that day; it was on the six o’clock news. I was sick to my stomach hearing the anchor woman tell of Tyler’s death. Shorty was only a year old at the time. Tyler was nine months old. He died after being left in a hot car for three hours. The inside of the car had reached upwards of 120 degrees and Tyler’s body registered 108. Hyperthermia was the cause of death.
Tyler’s father had left him in the car, forgetting to drop him off at the sitter’s that July morning. It was quickly approaching 90 degrees and it took no time for the inside of the car to heat up. I remember thinking, “How do you forget your baby in the car?” I dropped off Bebe and Shorty every day at the sitter’s. A seven minute trip for me and I found it hard to believe that a parent could just forget a child in the car. That was my knee-jerk reaction; to judge. But then I thought about all the times that I’d been so preoccupied with the things that were waiting for me when I got to work that caused me to turn the car around and head back to the sitter’s house because I’d driven right past her street. It was easy for me to judge them. I’d never lost a child. Two years later I would meet Tyler’s parents.
I met Tyler’s dad, Todd first. The last job I held before I had Peanut was at the same place where Tyler had been left in the car. After having worked with Todd and then meeting Melody, Tyler’s mom, I was in complete shock that this was the same family; they didn’t seem to be the kind of family that would forget their baby in car. That was my first thought when I made the connection that they were the family who had lost their infant son just two years earlier.
I don’t know what to tell you from here that won’t cause you to judge Todd and Melody; odds are you’ve already done that. What I can tell you is that Tyler’s death was a horrible accident – one that I believe even the most watchful, caring and cautious parent can make. Because the moment you say that something like that won’t happen to you; it does. Your world crashes and you’re never quite the same.
On the day of Tyler’s death, the morning routine was changed. Instead of Melody being the drop-off person for the sitter, Todd was doing it. All it took was a change in the family norm for an accident like this to happen. Unfortunately, for the many families that have lost a child to hyperthermia (overheating), changes in routine or stress are the leading reasons behind it.
Since Tyler’s death, Todd and Melody have been activists to get the word out about cars and heat related deaths. They don’t want to just sit on the sidelines and watch this happen to other families.
“We went to Seattle, WA to be on the ABC affiliate station’s daytime show to talk about the dangers and how to prevent it from happening. We were part of a Consumer Reports video on the dangers of cars heating up. We did a piece with Good Morning America and went to Washington D.C. in support of HR Bill 1216 in Washington DC (the bill had guidelines for car makers to help prevent heat related death, but it was removed on the final version. The bill was signed into act by President Bush in 2007 (http://www.kidsandcars.org/legislation/factsheet.pdf). We have also participated in various news articles and reached out to other families who have experienced this same tragedy. Right now, I am trying to get into local hospitals to have them give safety tip cards to new parents.” Melody said. She called all of these, ‘Small steps’.
Each time they speak out or are interviewed they understand the scrutiny and malicious comments they may endure all over again. I asked Melody about this; why put yourself through it all over again? Why endure the meanness of people? Melody’s answer was simple, “If I can reach other moms and dads so that this doesn’t happen to them then I can deal with the negative comments.”
Melody says that the accident has changed her in many ways. She will never forget the loss of Tyler but immediately forgave her husband for the accident. "Life is too short not to forgive and hold a grudge," she told me. She and Todd check in regularly with each other when one of them is supposed to be picking up the children from school or daycare. As a mom she is more sensitive to when her daughters are out of view. While she wants them to explore the world, she still gets nervous when they are out of sight, something all moms can understand. Melody also told me that this has changed her in how she reacts to situations that other people are involved in. She tries not to be judgmental and have more compassion.
Tyler’s story doesn’t have to be one completely of loss. Melody hopes that she can prevent this from happening to someone else, simply by making them aware of her story and educating them on how to prevent it:
*Keep the keys and key fobs (if you have remote locking doors) away from children.
*Create a routine that reminds you the child is with you. Some parents use toys or stuffed animals that are moved to the front seat when the child is placed in the back seat or in their car seat.
*Put your purse, briefcase, bags, etc in the back seat instead of next to you in the passenger seat. This way you must get in to the back seat to retrieve your items.
When I traveled to the sitter every day, I always placed the kids’ belongings (diaper bag, toy bag, etc) in the passenger seat next to my own things. This was my “visual”. Not only that but I wanted their things within my reach in case they needed something and this was the easiest way to do that. Along those same lines, I used to carry my purse or wallet inside their bags so that when I needed something of my own, I had to reach into their bag to get it.
This year alone, there have already been 29 hyperthermia related car deaths, all involving children. Since 1998 to today, there have been 474 hyperthermia deaths. That’s an average of 37 per year. In some of the cases, the story is similar to Tyler’s and others involve children climbing into cars to play and becoming trapped. To assume that all hyperthermia cases are accidents caused by parents or caregivers forgetting a child in a car is another misstep in judging people. The fact is that it can happen at any time to any parent.
I stand beside Melody, as a friend and as a mom and I’m saying that eight years ago, I was wrong; this could happen to me and by telling you Tyler’s story, it is both of our hopes that it never happens to anyone else.